I haven’t written anything on this site for a while now. It’s actually rather difficult to know what to write when confronted with the astonishing spectacle of national self-destruction that is unfolding in front of our eyes. Nowadays hardly a day passes without another reminder that the UK has entered a new political dimension in which delusions of grandeur, magical thinking and ideological fantasy have replaced anything that we once thought had any connection to the real world.
These tendencies reach across the political spectrum. You can find them in George Galloway, doing the full UKIP/Churchill thing on Arron Banks’s Westmonster website (sorry not linking to this) and reminding Europeans that WE saved them during WWII and that ‘If not for us not a single European politician would hold office anywhere unless as a Quisling collaborator of the German Reich.’ For the Churchillian war-child Galloway this means that ‘ when I hear a “Schnell” or an “Achtung” from the Junkers (sic) of this world I don’t consider it music in my ears.’
Let no one spoil this demagogic rant by telling Galloway that Jean-Claude Juncker comes from Luxembourg not Germany. He already knows that. But for Galloway, anyone who has anything to do with the EU is close enough to Nazis to make no difference, and anyone who says otherwise, like Churchill’s opponents, belongs to what he calls ‘the gang of appeasers and fifth columnists within the British elite.’
Such idiocy, as we have seen for some time now, is not confined to the fringes. Take Boris Johnson’s latest fatuous suggestion comparing the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to a congestion zone between Westminster and Camden. Never one to resist blowing his own trumpet, Johnson reminded Radio 4 listeners that ‘ when I was mayor of London we anesthetically and invisibly took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people traveling between those two boroughs without any need for border checks.’
Many people have pointed out that it may not be so easy to ‘anesthetically and invisibly’ bypass Irish history or a conflict that cost 3,000 lives. It’s a bleak testament to the current state of things that such arguments even need to be made, or that a self-aggrandising buffoon like Johnson has any influence on anything at all. But his continued presence in the corridors of power is a symptom of a detachment from reality that only seems to grow wider as the Brexit process slouches incoherently towards political Neverland.
For eighteen months now the May government has been asking for things it cannot have, promising things it cannot deliver, bluffing, posturing, and pursuing things that cannot be achieved, even as its own impact assessments predict that the country will be worse off in every single Brexit scenario. Yet when civil servants point out the potential damage that the country is likely to inflict on itself, they are dismissed as traitors, quislings, closet Eurocrats or members of the ‘pro-European elite’.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wrote TS Eliot, and Brexiters cannot bear any reality at all that conflicts with their fantasy of a global buccaneering Britain, freed of EU red tape and the unwanted immigrants that the country depends on, able to proudly smoke in pubs once again and singing Rule Britannia as we surge toward a brave new world that we now know will not be a ‘Mad Max-style’ dystopia.
In fact a country that allows its politics to be driven by ideological fantasies and straw man constructs is likely to find itself inhabiting a reality that is more dystopian than its opposite, and the right aren’t the only dreamers in Brexittown. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn once again demonstrated that the left is no less prone to magical thinking than the Rees-Mogg/Nadine Dorries crowd.
Corbyn’s speech was hailed by his fans as a ‘ bold Brexit vision’, because his fan base will never say anything different about anything he says. But despite – or perhaps because of – its attempt to be everything to everyone, his speech was littered with little reminders of why His Majesty’s Opposition has presented very little opposition whatsoever to the Brexit process, and has largely fallen over itself in its eager desire to bring the debacle even closer.
Thus there was a leftwing version of the ‘£350 million for the NHS’ pledge in Corbyn’s promise to ‘use funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and the jobs of the future, not tax cuts for the richest.’ While insisting that there should be ‘no scapegoating of migrants’, Corbyn once again promised that ‘Our immigration system will change and freedom of movement will as a statement of fact end when we leave the European Union.’
So migrants won’t be scapegoated, but immigration will be. And freedom of movement – one of the great progressive achievements of the European Union – will end in order ‘ To stop employers being able to import cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions’.
Never mind that there is very little evidence to suggest any such thing. When Corbyn last mentioned this ‘importation’, it was in relation to the construction industry, which has a skills shortage and where wages are actually rising. But Corbyn, like the Lexiters moving in his political orbit, clearly believes that immigration is nothing more than a ‘bosses club’ ploy to exploit migrants more easily and in Brexit Britain what you believe is always more significant than what actually happens.
Despite making more emollient noises than the Maybot, Corbyn insists that he won’t accept a ‘ deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others’ even though the EU has always made it quite clear that it will not accept cherry-picking deals that allow the UK to continue to enjoy a privileged position after leaving while escaping the obligations of membership. Despite this, Corbyn is optimistic about the outcome because:
‘There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey. The truth is more down to earth and it’s in our hands. Brexit is what we make of it together, the priorities and choices we make in the negotiations.’
Not really. Because whatever priorities and choices we decide upon, the UK is negotiating within a very limited set of parameters and is almost certain to find itself worse-off than it was before, no matter what is ultimately decided. The tragedy is that neither the government nor the opposition want to admit this. Mesmerised by their own narrow party or personal career interests, wide-eyed and prostrate before ‘the will of the people’, they offer fantasies and pipedreams and demand the impossible in an attempt to square circles that cannot be connected.
Sooner or later the consequences of this political cowardice and dereliction of duty will become impossible to ignore, and when that happens things may get far uglier than many of us once thought possible. Because there are historic mistakes that cannot easily be undone, and Brexit is one of them.
For now, it seems, the millions of us who are unwilling passengers on this runaway train can merely sit while it heads towards the buffers, hostages to a political nightmare that we seem incapable of waking up from, shouting out warnings that those who are driving this process seem unable or unwilling to hear. From the point of view of a writer – and a citizen – that is not a comfortable position to be in at all, and it is very difficult to say anything knowing that whatever you say will make no difference whatsoever.